Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo Besungu, O.F.M. Cap: Bringing together people of the DRC

For the Democratic Republic of Congo, the elevation of Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, O.F.M. Cap as Cardinal, at the weekend, became an event for an unprecedented show of unity and solidarity by the people of Congo.

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City

After the ceremony in St Peter’s Basilica, DRC’s politicians, priests, Bishops, the religious, diaspora community and Catholic laity converged at Rome’s Ergife hotel to celebrate the new Cardinal. Notable was the diversity of the people present. They came from the government, opposition parties and different ethnic groups. For once, the occasion showed what could be archived if the people of this great nation put aside their perennial differences to march as one people.

Leading the DRC delegation was Republican President, Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi, First Lady, Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi and members of the government. Also present were a large number of Congolese Bishops.

In the shoes of Cardinal Monsengwo

Cardinal Ambongo is the head of one of the largest African Archdioceses –the Archdiocese of Kinshasa.

At 59 years, observers say he is a worthy successor of Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya who incidentally celebrated his 80th birthday, Monday 7 October 2019.

Cardinal Ambongo is a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. The Franciscan Order is divided into various groups, and the Capuchins are one of these groups, who look to St. Francis of Assisi as their founder.

Life as a Bishop

Fifteen years ago, Cardinal Ambongo was appointed Bishop of Bokungu-Ikela Diocese before moving to be the Archbishop of Mbandaka-Bikoro in 2016. He became Coadjutor Archbishop of Kinshasa on 6 February 2018, then defacto Archbishop of Kinshasa on 1 November 2018.

Speaking of his nomination as Cardinal, the new ‘porporato’ said the appointment was an honour conferred on the whole Church of the DRC. He also said it could also be that the appointing authorities took into consideration the Church’s efforts in speaking for the voiceless.

I, too, have tried to “add my voice on behalf of our suffering (Congolese) people. In a way, this honour says to us in the DRC that the path we have chosen is the right one and that we must continue to give hope to our people,” Cardinal Ambongo said.

A Pastor and teacher of Moral Theology

The Cardinal studied Philosophy at the Bwamanda Seminary. For Theology, he went to Saint Eugène de Mazenod Institute in Kinshasa. He made his First Profession with the Capuchin Friars Minor in 1981. Then Perpetual Vows in 1987. Ordained a priest on 14 August 1988, he later obtained a degree in Moral Theology from Rome’s Alphonsian Academy, a Pontifical University founded in 1949 by the Redemptorists

Between 1988-1989, then Fr. Ambongo was a parish priest in Bobito. At the same time, he taught Moral Theology at the Catholic University of Congo in Kinshasa, as well as at the inter-diocesan major seminary of Saints Peter and Paul in Lisala. From 1995 to 2005 he taught at the Mazenod Institute.

Within the Order of the Capuchin Fathers, he has held various distinguished positions.

A courageous human rights defender who received death threats

Cardinal Ambongo has been an outspoken defender of human rights in the DRC. As Bishop-Director of the Justice and Peace Commission for the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (Cenco), he received many death threats for speaking out against the unbridled exploitation of Congo’s vast mineral fields and large forest areas by both local and foreign agents. Convinced of the importance of “networking,” he paralleled the plundering of the Amazon with that of his own country, once declaring, “as soon as a resource is discovered, whether they are precious minerals or oil, we already know that a war will break out.”

Last year, the new Cardinal proved himself an ardent defender of Catholic lay organisations who staged Sunday demonstrations against the former President. The demonstrations were met with a harsh response from the country’s security forces.

A people coming together

The DRC has come a long way from a country on the verge of disintegrating into chaos with last year’s elections. In August, this year, the General Secretary of the Episcopal Conference, Fr Donatien N’ shole welcomed steps towards better relations between the government and the Church.

It is no coincidence that events at the weekend in Rome provided an opportunity for the DRC Government to demonstrate solidarity and goodwill towards the new Cardinal and by extension to the Catholic Church.

New Cardinal-Priest of St. Gabriel Archangel all ‘Acque Traversa

Every Cardinal Priest has a titular church in Rome, though they may be Bishops or Archbishops elsewhere. Cardinal Ambongo has been appointed as the Cardinal-Priest of St. Gabriel Archangel all ‘Acque Traversa.

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